The celebrated actress now tours for humanitarian causes and takes on few acting projects.
Daughter of Hollywood royalty. Bride of Frank Sinatra. Muse of Woody Allen. Mother of “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Mia Farrow is all that, but perhaps more significantly she’s an advocate of human rights in general and the rights and safety of children in particular.
“Whoever said patience was a virtue — believe me, it’s not. It’s an impediment to all meaningful progress,” said Farrow, 68, who has used her celebrity to raise funds and awareness to aid children in such war-torn and famine-ravaged countries as Chad and Sudan. “You can be heard now. You can make a difference now. That’s my core message.”
The daughter of Australian-born Hollywood director John Farrow and Irish-born actress Maureen O’Sullivan (best-known as Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the finest of the Tarzan movies), Mia Farrow has been a working actress since the 1960s, when she found fame on the prime-time soap opera, “Peyton Place.” Two years after that show’s cancellation, she not only renewed her fame but achieved cinematic immortality when her character gave birth to the spawn of Satan in director Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic, “Rosemary’s Baby.”
That film ended with her character accepting the responsibility of caring for even the most unpromising of infants; off-screen, Farrow, too, has been unafraid to embrace the responsibilities of motherhood.
Her son Ronan, 25, who tours with her promoting her humanitarian causes, is one of four biological children and 11 adopted children who have called Mia Farrow mother. The actress also has nine grandchildren. For her, family may be a prouder legacy than a film career that includes “The Great Gatsby” (1974) with Robert Redford; Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” (1978); and 13 Woody Allen projects from 1980 to 1992, including such career highlights as “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Broadway Danny Rose,” which cast the often-waiflike actress against type as a brassy former gangster’s moll.
“Every parent would say, ‘Yes, I’ve tried to be an influence for good,’ ” said Farrow, in a phone interview from the Connecticut home she shares with four dogs, a parakeet, a hamster and, often, grandchildren. (The animals aren’t just nice companions, but lures for the grandkids, Farrow admitted.)
“All my children are not public figures, but they’re all good people,” Farrow said. “As a single mother [for most of these years], when I look at how they turned out, I say, ‘I didn’t do too badly.’ ”
She doesn’t believe a person’s “family” responsibilities need to be confined to those within his or her circle. “My perception which I’ve transmitted to [my children] is we’re a family not by blood, which is meaningless, but by love and responsibilities ... to family, community, country, world, planet — to our brothers and sisters everywhere within the human family.”
As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Farrow has put this belief into action. During the past decade in particular, she has taken part in missions to conflict-ravaged regions of Africa, where children battle hunger and engage in more literal battles as conscripted soldiers. She also has raised money to help eradicate childhood polio. In this regard, Ronan is a chip off the activist block.
The sole biological child of Farrow and Allen, Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow — the first name is a reference to baseball great Satchel Paige — is a child prodigy who entered Bard’s College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts at age 11 and was accepted to Yale Law School at 15. Now 25, he is a writer and human-rights lawyer who was the founder of the Office of Global Youth Issues in the Obama State Department. In that capacity, he has worked as an advocate for young people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and during the Arab Spring uprisings.
Considering the much-publicized and antagonistic legal battles between his parents, which began after Mia Farrow discovered Allen’s affair with adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, Ronan Farrow might have become a more troubled or less purposeful child of celebrity. Mia Farrow, too, didn’t seem destined for a life of activism.
Farrow’s first marriage, in 1966, was to Frank Sinatra, who served her divorce papers on the set of “Rosemary’s Baby.” (Among the things that reportedly irked Sinatra was the “boy’s” haircut Farrow wore for the Polanski film.) Her second marriage, in 1970, was to conductor/composer Andre Previn.
After moving to England with Previn, “I never looked back to California,” preferring the East Coast when she returned to America. “I never felt the same about working. If I had ever wanted to prove something to myself, I felt I had proved it, in television and in that movie [‘Rosemary’s Baby’]. It was very successful, and very, very satisfying, artistically, to me. After that, I had to find my way, like everyone else. I knew I needed a life that would be meaningful to myself and hopefully to others.”